2.7 Soundness


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • What makes an argument “sound.”
  • The difference between a valid argument and a sound argument.
  • The difficulty of determining the truth of statements.

A good argument is not only valid, but also sound. Soundness is defined in terms of validity, so since we have already defined validity, we can now rely on it to define soundness. A sound argument is a valid argument that has all true premises. That means that the conclusion of a sound argument will always be true. Why? Because if an argument is valid, the premises transmit truth to the conclusion on the assumption of the truth of the premises. But if the premises are actually true, as they are in a sound argument, then since all sound arguments are valid, we know that the conclusion of a sound argument is true. Compare the last two Obama examples from the previous section. While the first argument was sound, the second argument was not sound, although it was valid. The relationship between soundness and validity is easy to specify: all sound arguments are valid arguments, but not all valid arguments are sound arguments.

Although soundness is what any argument should aim for, we will not be talking much about soundness. The reason for this is that the only difference between a valid argument and a sound argument is that a sound argument has all true premises. But how do we determine whether the premises of an argument are actually true? Well, there are lots of ways to do that, including using Google to look up an answer, studying the relevant subjects in school, consulting experts on the relevant topics, and so on. But none of these activities have anything to do with logic, per se. The relevant disciplines to consult if you want to know whether a particular statement is true is almost never logic! For example, logic has nothing to say regarding whether or not protozoa are animals or whether there are predators that are not in the animal kingdom. In order to learn whether those statements are true, we would have to consult biology, not logic. Since this is a philosophy textbook, however, it is best to leave the question of what is empirically true or false to the relevant disciplines that study those topics. And that is why the issue of soundness, while crucial for any good argument is outside the purview of logic.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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